LIVINGSTON, NJ — Nearly nine months into his one-year term as the mayor of Livingston, Alfred Anthony reminisced about some of the progressive steps the township has taken since January, including: the beginning of construction at the new Madonna Field; open forums for big issues like the water conservation ordinance and the proposed hotel at the Livingston Mall; upcoming 5:5 meetings with the board of education; and the beginnings of a mobile application for the township.
Overall, Anthony said he is enthusiastic about the many new businesses coming into town, the many success stories of volunteers throughout the year—specifically noting the overwhelming success of the first annual Food Truck Extravaganza and Livingston 4th of July celebration—and many of the decisions made with public input by listening to as many voices as possible.
In addition to working with volunteer groups, meeting the Livingston’s youth and honoring many of the township’s outstanding residents with official proclamations, Anthony said one of his favorite aspects of being mayor has been the ability of this council to listen to what the public wants and apply it.
“There’s no way that five people can know everything happening in town,” said Anthony. “But I always say this council has big ears—we listen when someone’s talking and try to come to a decision.”
As a result of Anthony’s “Meet the Mayor” series, in which he invites residents to meet with him one-on-one 30 minutes prior to every conference meeting, the council as a whole has been able to listen to residents’ ideas, questions and concerns, and apply them to their decisions throughout the year.
“That’s been huge because a good amount of our ideas have come from those sessions,” he said. “It’s good for people who don’t want to come to a microphone and announce their individual problems to everyone and people have come up with things we would never have known about that we were able to get onto the agenda.”
One of the most notable examples of the council listening to individual people’s issues and applying them was with the water conservation ordinance passed in April, amending lawn-watering restrictions from two days per week to three, after months of back-and-forth conversations with concerned residents. After the mayor and council heard comments and suggestions from the public at regular council meetings and an open forum, the initially proposed ordinance establishing two-days-per-week lawn-watering restrictions in Livingston was withdrawn and adjusted accordingly.
Another noteworthy example of this included an open forum on the proposed Marriott Residence Inn and restaurant in the parking lot of the Livingston Mall, which was voted on at Monday’s meeting.
“We’re trying to be the people’s government,” said Anthony, crediting the entire council. “Everyone has a voice, so I’ve gone out of my way to make myself available for anyone who wants to speak with me. Also, for any major issues like the water and the hotel, rather than going 5-0 on something that sounds good, we opened it up for everyone to come in and comment on it.”
Anthony said that making significant progress on the Madonna Field, which is finally underway after years of planning and is on schedule to be completed in 2016 thanks to a $1.3-million check from Saint Barnabas Medical Center, was one of the township’s greatest achievements in the last nine months.
“As soon as I started, that was one of my top priorities,” said Anthony, who was one of the councilmen to get the commitment from Saint Barnabas alongside former mayor Michael Rieber. “Everything’s been moving very quickly since January.”
He also said the council was proud to introduce a municipal budget with the lowest tax increase in 12 years and is looking forward to continuing to find tax reductions in order to do even better next year.
“We don’t want to cut services, because we all expect the services, but we want to find where there are duplications and get rid of them,” said Anthony, who said that one of his top priorities during his final months as mayor includes holding public 5:5 meetings between the council and the board of education—a goal that Anthony said he wishes could have happened sooner.
Now that Christina Steffner has been hired as the permanent Superintendent of Schools for the district and her first school year is underway, Anthony said nothing is holding the council and board of education back from getting together for a 5:5 meeting in the near future.
“The average tax dollar in town is 60 percent board of ed, 23 percent county and 17 percent [municipal], so we’re trying to get together with the board of ed and see if there’s any overlap,” said Anthony. “If there’s any duplication or we could do shared services or an inter-local agreement, we can bring down the whole tax rate together. We’re separate, but on common issues, why not talk about whether we could all save Livingston residents money?”
In addition to potential shared services with the board of education, Anthony is also enthusiastic about open conversations with the Essex County Executive, Freeholder and Engineer as well as with leaders in nearby towns like Roseland, Millburn and South Orange, who he has established and maintained relationships with over the past few months.
“I think it’s been important this year that I’ve reached out to other towns in the county because a big part of being the mayor is improving and building relationships,” said Anthony. “I’m learning on the job how relationships outside of Livingston could help Livingston.”
As the mayor, Anthony said he has enjoyed being the one responsible for communicating with all of the community’s organizations, businesses, committees and residents. He looks forward to continuing over the next few months and running for re-election as a councilman in November.